History of Jewelry Fads in the United States


Jewelry Fads From the 1920s to the 1960s 


In the 1920s, the shadow of the First World War still stretched across the world.  The extravagant jewelry of the previous period seemed so vain and immodest, and to that extent, flaunting flashy diamonds and ornate jewelry pieces was no longer the fad. Simple and cheap pieces in excess became the new 'elegant.'

Pieces became more repressed and toned down in their glitz and glam. In the absence of the vibrant peacock, the sleek ivory pearls became one of the most defining sets of jewelry in the period. Rows of pearl beads seem to be perceived as ubiquitous for the era. Abstract or geometric designs were popular during this period, too. 

That might seem to contradict the previous statements, which is fair, the so-called Roaring Twenties did have its fair share of contradictions, but the reality was that many of these were not the most authentic pearls that one could find. Looking good sometimes meant buying cheap. Real cheap. So, a lot of these were not real pearls.

Art depicting typical 1920s "flapper" with long pearl necklace and beads.

As for the colors, Art Deco was the trendsetter, and so many of the jewelry pieces came with an array of rich colors, which often clashed. Traditionalists and conservatives argued that these long beads could draw unwanted attention to a woman with low-cut clothing; simply put, they were "scandalous!" Such observations seem so silly now.

Though, some people were aware of the hypocritical attitudes of the period. While diamonds were not necessarily the reigning stone, other precious minerals did earn their time in the spotlight. Thus, some were in the right to argue that it was self-righteous and deceptive to consider the people of the past as being haughty and imperious.


Crashing Twenties - The 1930s.

Eventually, the dream of the Roaring Twenties came to an end with the start of the Great Depression. People, once again, looked on in the past years as being nothing but needlessly excessive and unnecessary.

There was a lot of carry-over from the 1920s. This is not too surprising, as a lot of people were focused more on survival than they were on looking like a movie star.


Art Deco still clung on and continued to make an impression on fashion in the period. Some have pointed out that jewelry did take on a more dazzling form in the 1930s, with brilliant cuts becoming the ruling cut of the age. Many attribute this to the greater prominence and influence of the silver screen, where actors and actresses wanted that eye-catching twinkle on film.

No matter the case, many women grew to like cute flowers and ribbons in designs. Thus one difference was with the fading of geometric patterns from the 20s. People also favored matching colors during this time rather than the clashing colors of the previous decade.


World War II - 1940s

The world was once more thrown into the flames of war. By the time the United States got involved, it had shaken loose most of the issues pertaining to the great depression. As the United States mobilized for war, the jewelry industry saw a cutback on materials seen as necessary for the war effort. Thus, there was some slowdown in terms of innovation in jewelry. Well, somewhat.

In particular, a variety of metals came in short supply. Sterling silver found its niche during this time. While the glamor of nature was popular, jewelry that depicted heroism, valor, and patriotism flourished greatly while the United States was at war. 

Sterling Ring Turquoise

Studio, or costume, jewelry saw increased popularity and would remain relevant for quite some time. Acrylics started to become common but would not boom in popularity until later. Still, people enjoyed it because it was an economical way to wear jewelry.

Finding the 50s

While fake pearls were always popular due to their affordability, pearls of all kinds came back in full swing by the 1950s, reaching 1920s levels of popularity. People wanted popping colors again, though they generally wanted these to match and not clash, unlike the previous periods. Suffice to say, by now, people were willing to go back to the fine and elaborate styles they once looked down upon.

Vintage Sterling Silver Ring With Coral, Jasper, and Lapis

Acrylic glass became extremely popular during this time. Particularly since valuable materials were no longer needed for the war effort. Though, in general, it is fair to say that many minerals or materials people could not easily acquire during the war became popular once again.

Some designs at this time became a little more abstract, geometric, or eccentric. Not as much as in later periods, but one could see a trend starting. Exotic or foreign patterns also began to rise in the hearts and minds of many.


Soaring 60s

During this period, geometric shapes saw increased popularity, as opposed to the natural, floral, and symbolic imagery of the previous decades. The rich and saturated colors of the period often clashed.

Vintage Sterling Malachite Bracelet

When it came to rings and bracelets large, sometimes bulky, designs grew in popularity. In many ways, the style of this period reflected the 1920s. Modesty was out and going all out with a vibrant and grand statement was in.

 At times, the 60s almost seemed defined by the idea of excess. Earrings especially grew in size as people expanded upon the hoop design. The statement was to make a statement purely from the noisy colors and sizeable pieces of jewelry.




“American Jewelry.” Design Quarterly, no. 45/46 (1959): 3–63. https://doi.org/10.2307/4047266.
GREENBAUM, TONI. “Constructivism and American Studio Jewelry, 1940 to the Present.” Studies in the Decorative Arts 6, no. 1 (1998): 68–94.

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